Reading Mona El-Naggar’s and Laurie Goodstein’s terrific coverage in the New York Times of how ISIS attracts new members into its ranks, I was reminded of a similar dynamic at work in Julia Reynold’s astonishing new book, Blood in the Fields, which I reviewed for the winter issue of ReVista. Reynolds focuses on a bloody organization located within the United States: the Nuestra Familia gang, which runs criminal activities and murders opponents throughout the western states. Despite the geographical difference, the gang’s predatory recruitment tactics sound a lot like ISIS’s method of appealing to disaffected young adults. As I wrote in my review:
Nuesta Familia seduces boys from broken homes with visions of cash, excitement and eternal brotherhood. Then it manipulates their ethics with double talk that suggests robbery, extortion, and drug dealing are merely types of “work” that serve the noble “Cause” of protecting their communities.
ISIS, El-Naggar and Goodstein show, successfully attracts young men from intact families partly because the society around them feels so broken. It replaces chaos with a sense of purpose, order, and brotherhood — all backed up by a violent and radically conservative interpretation of Islam. Nuestra Familia cunningly deploys a similar co-optation of an established, and generally peaceful, intellectual framework. Its original members
Pirated the civil rights language from César Chávez’s workers’ movement, which has nothing to do with the gang. Yet the sneaky co-optation works. Teenagers who are hungry for accomplishment swallow the rhetoric whole, and through this cunning lens see NF membership – with its daily grind of dealing, intimidation, and assault – as a kind of chivalric code.
That ethical bait-and-switch sounds dispiritingly familiar, no matter where it takes place.